Apr 22

Becoming Your Own Boss After Military Retirement

Nellis-AFBHaving reached the pinnacle of a military career, becoming one’s own boss can be a tempting second career choice. Some consider becoming franchise owners, a path that provides some independence along with a proven template and business structure. Others interested in full independence may give some thought to starting their own small business. COL (Ret) Dave McNeil followed the latter path; he founded Charleston, South Carolina-based Hannah Solar Government Services after 30 years of Army service.

VSB: Dave, what made you decide to launch your own company following your military career?

McNeil: I always knew that I wanted to own my own small business one day after my military career. I wanted a job where I would have the ability to be fully responsible for the success or failure of the organization and I wanted the job satisfaction of working for myself.

 I wanted a job where I would have the ability to be fully responsible for the success or failure of the organization and I wanted the job satisfaction of working for myself.

VSB: Tell us about your business and the work you do.

McNeil: We are an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) firm that provides site-specific solar photovoltaic solutions to commercial and government clients across the United States and the Caribbean. As a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, we serve as a prime contractor to the US Government and as well as a subcontractor to large companies, helping them achieve federal small business subcontracting goals.

Our services include solar photovoltaic solar system planning, consulting, design, system installation, and maintenance. Our design staff includes certified Solar Photovoltaic Installers by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). Our installation staff includes engineers who are licensed Professional Engineers (PE), Master Electricians, service technicians, project management professionals, designers, and installers.

Currently, Hannah Solar Government Services has solar PV systems under construction on military installations in California, Alabama, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Maine, Puerto Rico and South Carolina for the US Army, US Army National Guard, US Army Reserve, US Navy, US Marine Corps and NASA.

VSB: What do you see as the critical ingredients for success as a small business owner?

McNeil: There are several ingredients that I think are critical.

  • Have the financial ability to work without income in the beginning and at other times during the business. You cannot count on a steady income stream potentially for a few years.
  • Ensure family support of your long term business goals. This includes a willingness to support you for the long hours of continuous work and periods without income. 
  • Be prepared to commit yourself fully. A new small business owner will need to be prepared to work 24/7 for a few years until the business is fully established. This is a big decision for a career military retiree who has already worked long hard hours, nights, weekends and multiple deployments all away from the family for 20-30 years. Even if you are prepared to do this, double check with family members to see if they are equally prepared for this level of  commitment.
  • Have the financial means to invest in the company (again assume no personal income) for several years until you turn the corner to profitability. This is often where new business owners fail to plan.
  • Take courses to understand the financial, tax, and other regulations of your new business before you start. There is much to learn about the details and administration of small business operations; these are things we never learned in the military. SCORE is a great organization and offers many free or very affordable courses.
  • Secure a few mentors who have been successful as small business owners including at least one who was career military. SCORE has mentors available. There is no substitute for getting advice from someone who has actually done what you are about to do.

VSB: It is great to see your company already giving back to the community. Tell us about your corporate philanthropy efforts.

McNeil: There are many great organizations providing support to people in need. I have chosen to focus our philanthropy efforts on organizations that support Veterans. Our company provides ongoing annual financial support to the following organizations:

  • United Services Organization (USO)
  • Wounded Warrior Project
  • Special Operations Warrior Foundation
  • Gallant Few Revolutionary Veteran Support Network

Additionally, we have started a project to donate residential solar systems to Disabled Veterans. We arrange for solar suppliers to donate the major electrical components and we provide the design, labor, construction management and commissioning. Our first Veteran to receive a donated solar system is Skip Askew, a 100% disabled Veteran and a Silver Star recipient from Vietnam, who lives in Greensboro, GA.


We’d love to hear additional lessons learned from other veteran-owned small businesses.

What do you see as the benefits and challenges of running your own small business following a long career in military service? Tell us YOUR story!



1 comment

  1. Jim


    Very worthy cause you are undertaking with fellow veterans. Are you a verified SDVOSB?


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